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Due to a limited running time of 41 minutes, the works on the
Masterclass Media Foundation DVD, “Stephen Kovacevich at the
Verbier Festival Academy,” were subject to time constraints.
The Schubert “C Minor Impromptu” received the lion’s share
of the attention. Pianist Stephen Kovacevich (formerly known
as “Stephen Bishop”) has a reputation based upon the
thoughtful intensity that he brings to the core Classical
repertoire; i.e., Beethoven, Mozart, Brahms, and Schubert
in particular. Therefore, I was very interested to see him
work on Schubert’s “Impromptus, Nos. 1 and 3,” with
Lilit Grigoryan, an excellent student. These two great works
were from Franz Schubert’s (1797-1828) final years.

Kovacevich (1940 – ) didn’t quite let Grigoryan finish each piece
before questioning her interpretations, and proffering advice about
what he believes Schubert might have intended. First, in the
“C Minor Impromptu,” he addressed Grigoryan’s choice of tempo.
He felt it was slow in relation to the harmonic movement of the
opening. He also discussed issues of pedaling, the duration of
staccato passages and dynamics. I personally felt that at times,
Grigoryan’s playing on the modern Steinway tended to
“overpower” the music; however, there was no question about
her abilities. In a sense, Kovacevich acted as her “sculptor,”
pointing out and questioning her interpretation of the score.

Unfortunately, unlike other masterclasses conducted by pianist
Stephen Hough (Liszt) or András Schiff (Bach), Kovacevich never
demonstrated his ideas at the keyboard. In fact, his methods
were reminiscent of violinist Maxim Vengerov, who refrained
from playing his instrument during his masterclass addressing
the first movement of Benjamin Britten’s “Violin Concerto.”
Oh, well!

Another distinction from the other DVD masterclasses I’ve
observed was the lack of footage of the audience. However,
with the sole focus on Kovacevich and his pupil, the small,
darkened auditorium setting provided an air of intimacy,
and I was nevertheless grateful for this first-hand opportunity
to hear Kovacevich’s thoughts about music that means so
much to me. This 2009 DVD release is highly worthwhile for
pedagogues and aspiring pianists, not to mention viewers
like me, who are interested in “the process.”